Reports from the Field

Protecting Sea Turtles in Costa Rica


“As a soon-to-be veterinarian I have the ambition to specialise in reptilian wildlife. So when I had to conduct a three-month research project for my masters degree, the choice was easily made; I want to work up close and personal with sea turtles! I had been to Costa Rica before and fell in love with the country so that was going to be my goal. Global Nomadic set me up with the organisation working on the conservation of turtles and sharks. The practical plans were quickly made and soon everything was arranged for me to fly to Costa Rica. But, because of my university and getting approval for my research plan, I still had to wait half a year before I was sure I could buy a ticket!

Mariska Kerkhoff - Sea Turtle Protection Internship in Costa RicaIn October I was finally on my way and I was soon settled down in Corozalito, Costa Rica. As research assistant you are doing night-/morning patrols, looking for tracks and turtles, taking data and checking nests. In addition to that, I had my own project concerning the embryological stages that can be found in died unhatched eggs. This means digging up hatcheries after the newborns have gone to the ocean, to collect any eggs that are left and perform necropsy on them to determine the stage.

In November I took on the job of coördinator at our project, meaning I was in charge of the house, the work and the group of volunteers and assistants working with me. It wasn’t easy to begin with, as I didn’t speak a lot of Spanish, but it was a great opportunity and I wouldn’t have want to miss it for the world. I got involved in the community, have gained many precious friends from all over the world and my sweet neighbours took me in their family like I was their daughter or sister…

This experience has been life-changing. I’ve seen hundreds of turtles, on a little strip of beach just 800 meters long. To see so many turtles crawl up the beach, dig their nest, lay their eggs and doing a little turtle dance while covering everything before heading back to the ocean… it is nature at it’s best! And even though you’re tired of walking 4 hours on the beach every night, six nights a week and you’re digging nests until you have sand in places where you don’t want to find sand, and even though I’ve been opening rotten eggs that smell horrible… it’s all worth it when you see those little babies crawl out of the sand and run towards the ocean when the sun starts to rise over our beautiful little beach. The beauty of nature never seems to get boring!

Speaking of the beauty of nature; Corozalito had a lot more to offer. I’ve seen mostly Olive Ridley turtles, but also a few Green turtles and even a Hawksbill. I’ve seen whales jumping in the ocean while finishing a morning patrol. I’ve seen monkeys, coati’s, raccoons and many different types of birds. I’ve seen armadillos, anteaters, snakes and butterflies. I’ve seen thousands of fireflies dancing over the fields at nightfall, mirroring the beautiful night sky with all its stars. Of course also the occasional bug in your drink or your clothes, the scorpions in your room, ants crawling all over the place… but that’s Costa Rica!

To top it all of I was lucky enough to witness an aribada, meaning hundreds of turtles coming to the beach at the same time over a few days. How special it was to see them coming all together, during daylight and during nighttime, having volunteers from other projects rushing to our little beach to help with the work… wow! It put pressure on my work as coördinator, but it was amazing to witness!

As mentioned, this experience was life-changing and it definitely stimulated me to follow my dreams to work with reptilian wildlife. 2,5 months in this beautiful little town has changed me and I look back with a lot of great memories and love for the country, the animals and the beautiful people I’ve met on this journey. I hope to return someday; to walk on ‘our’ little beach again, to see the turtles return to make new nests and to send my love to my second family in Corozalito.

Costa Rica truly is… PURA VIDA!”

In-Water Sea Turtle Conservation Internship in Costa Rica 



Nomad Rating
Project Impact
Extra Activities
Author Bio

Mariska Kerkhoff